An online intergenerational playgroup is connecting the young and old, who may never have otherwise crossed paths.
Intergenerational playgroups bring together multiple generations through a range of programs.
Just before the coronavirus hit, Playgroup Victoria planned to bring children into aged care facilities on the back of the heartwarming ABC program 'Old People's Home for Four Year Olds'.
But restrictions prevented this from happening so the organisation turned to online playgroup sessions and more than one year on, the sessions are very successful.
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They may even continue after the pandemic because of the benefits it brings to the elderly and young families living in isolation.
Playgroup Victoria's Maureen Hatcher, who is based in Ballarat, facilitates intergenerational playgroup sessions for Ballarat's Mercy Place and Toorak's BlueCross Darnlee. The aged care facilities combine for the sessions every Tuesday and young families from across the state join the sessions from their living rooms.
Ms Hatcher said it was amazing how online playgroups still connected people, in particular people who had never met each other.
"Connection is really the main word of the whole thing. At this time in COVID when there's so many people separated, it's just so magical to be able to bring people together and people whose paths may never have crossed otherwise," Ms Hatcher said.
"There are a lot of benefits of it for everybody involved. I know for the residents there are benefits of social, emotional and physical. They sing, they dance, they share stories. They also get relationships from outside their home and you can see them spark throughout the session."
The playgroup sessions follow a similar program each week, which benefits the young and older participants.
They start with an acknowledgement song and finish with singing 'You are my Sunshine'. The sessions have a different theme each week and feature Ms Hatcher reading a book, singing a hello song, introducing Auslan signing and a show-and-tell.
The sessions have a different theme each week, which allows participants to bring something relating to the theme if they wish.
The group will soon celebrate Children's Week, held from October 23 to 31. Ms Hatcher said it was fitting the theme for Children's Week was: children have the right to choose their friends and safely connect with others, drawn from article 15 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"Some people who might be living with dementia, it is just beautiful to give them some stimulus outside of their usual day to day routine," Ms Hatcher said.
"Families benefit as well because the families coming in may not have contact with the grandparents and they still want their children to have connection with older people so it's really a win-win. I always have a smile on my face for the rest of the day. I love the magic of it but I also love the challenge of bringing the residents together and trying to keep them connected for that time."
Mercy Place Ballarat club and events manager Shanna Love said she could see the change in the residents who attended the sessions.
"They are really touched by the fact that these kids want to talk to them. It's been a godsend for some of our residents, particularly over the past 18 months because they're so isolated from their families and we're still not allowed to have kids in the building," Ms Love said.
"From a dementia perspective it's really interesting to watch and it's reassuring to know they are still capable of retaining new things.
"It gives a lot of our ladies a reason to get up in the morning. They just love it. They love to talk to the kids. We have one lady who brings something to show-and-tell every week."
Playgroup Victoria believes there will still be a space for online playgroup sessions after the pandemic, along with face-to-face sessions.
"After having done this for a year, I think there is a place for online now because I think we can connect with families that are quite isolated. People that are rural Victoria that might be quite isolated at home even prior to COVID, there is an opportunity for them to come in and join in the fun and make those connections," Ms Hatcher said.
Families wishing to join the online intergenerational playgroups can email Maureen Hatcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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